Interview: Funeral For A Friend
Published on March 10th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Welsh rock heroes Funeral For A Friend are back with a new lineup and a thrillingly back-to-basics direction on their hotly anticipated fifth album Welcome Home Armageddon, so Rocksucker caught up with drummer Ryan Richards to discuss the band, ‘eccentric’ fans, what got him into drumming and his involvement in the recording of Cardiff City FC standard ‘I’ll be There (With My Little Pick and Shovel)’, the proceeds of which shall go towards the Fred Keenor statue appeal fund…
Tell us about the Fred Keenor statue fund and what it means to you…
Fred was basically the most famous Cardiff City player of all time. He was captain of the 1927 FA Cup-winning side and a Welshman as well. That would have cemented him in Cardiff folklore anyway but the fact that he went away to war, actually got shot and injured, then came back into the team to lift the FA Cup – that’s a pretty amazing feat for a human being, let alone a footballer. He’s a great inspiration and that’s where it all started, really. We did the song up in Monnow Valley in Wales and, originally, another Cardiff City fan sadly departed – Stuart Cable [former Stereophonics drummer] – was meant to play on that but, after he passed away, the other guys on the project wanted to keep it going as much for Stuart’s memory as for the club or the Fred Keenor statue. The guys knew I was a Cardiff fan and a friend of Stuart so they asked me to step in, which was a great honour.
One of the things about Stuart was that, even if you only met him a few times, he’d make you feel like you were his best mate. He had that quality. I got to meet Stuart quite a few times over the years and he was definitely a big inspiration for me growing up as a drummer in the South Wales area.
How do you feel the new lineup has impacted upon the way the band works? Do you feel revitalised?
Absolutely yeah, one hundred per cent. It doesn’t feel alien because it’s the third band I’ve been in with Gavin and Richard, the two new members of the band, so it’s been a really easy transition and it’s freshened things up. Maybe it’s similar to football in that sense; when you make a new signing, it just revitalises everyone, adds that energy to the camp and that’s what it’s done.
The album title, as well as at least two of its tracks, refers to the apocalypse. Is this a theme that runs through the whole record?
It kind of is but it didn’t start out that way. The song ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ came before the record and we just really liked something about that phrase; it caught our imagination and just seemed to fit somehow. It went on from there, really. When we gave the title to the artwork designer we’ve been working with on the record [Rianne Rowlands], she came back with this great imagery and that pushed things further and gave us a solid direction. Sometimes with a record, you write one song and it sets the tone for the rest of the record.
Could Cardiff City getting promoted be one of the harbingers of doom?
(Laughs) Yeah, maybe. It would be a nice way for me to go out, really. I’d be happy enough to explode at Wembley, I suppose. But it’d be nice for promotion to happen on our own doorstep. It’s not going to happen now but it’d have been nice to have won the league or promotion at Swansea. When Bellamy scored that goal at Swansea, it was the best feeling but it would have been even better if it had been the last day of the season and it had taken us up. As you say, it could well be one of the harbingers of doom but I’d go out with a smile on my face!
You have a really rather rabid fanbase. As such, have you had any particularly weird or frightening experiences involving fans?
You do get some, shall we say, ‘over-enthusiastic’ fans sometimes. I certainly remember one who fashioned some sort of voodoo doll of our old guitarist. I believe it was a giraffe that had been adapted to have the hairstyle of our old guitarist and the fan in question had tried to give this to him at the show but couldn’t find him. We were out walking to the bus after the show and she sped past in her car, almost running him over, and then deserted her car in the middle of the road while presenting this possibly cursed giraffe to him. So yeah, that was nice. There haven’t been too many crazy ones for me; our old guitarist Darran used to attract the more, shall we say, ‘eccentric’ fans, so maybe he’s at home right now with a house full of eccentric gifts!
I read an interview with you in which you said that you took a lot of inspiration from the temporary dip and subsequent return to form of Deftones. Do they know that you described them in this interview as having been – and I quote – “bloated, sloppy and demotivated”?
(Laughs) Do you know what, I think they’d agree. I read interviews with them where, without quite using my words, they said things along the same lines, that they’d lost the plot and let themselves go in every sense. I was quite disappointed as a fan to see that and it was a wakeup call. Like I said, when they brought out the Diamond Eyes record, I absolutely loved it and thought it was the best thing they’d ever done, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m a big Deftones fan, I watched their first ever UK gig over ten years ago. I saw the pictures [promo pics for Diamond Eyes] and I thought they were looking slim, healthy and motivated and, for me, it didn’t appear to be a coincidence that both of those things went hand in hand. It was a real eye-opener for me; I looked at myself and did the same sort of thing, got back into training and working out and everything like that, and I lost nearly three stone myself. I took it on board, really, and I hope they wouldn’t mind too much me saying how inspired I was by their turnaround.
I could be wrong about this but, from that interview, it looked like there are aspects of your back catalogue with which you’re not entirely satisfied now. Is that the case?
I think it’s a case of it not being so black and white as saying “I don’t like Tales Don’t Tell Themselves” because I do, I really like it, but my opinion is that it wasn’t right for us. As a listener, I think it’s a great record but it doesn’t feel for me like a Funeral For A Friend record, it doesn’t quite fit in the archives of what we do. It feels like we went off on a really big tangent and, retrospectively, I think it would have been cool maybe to have done that as some sort of side project, named ourselves something different, as bands sometimes do. That’s not me saying that I don’t like it but, in the whole scheme of the Funeral For A Friend journey, it’s a little bit of a bump in the road.
Fans of bands have a tendency to pine for ‘the old stuff’. From what I’ve been reading about the new record, it’s a return to the kind of aggression of the first few albums. Do you ever feel that the direction you take musically is influenced by what the fans want from you?
Well, when we started, we didn’t have any fans so it was easy to do whatever. We wrote our first album that way and people loved that. When it got to the second record, there were a lot of people coming out then who sounded just like us so I guess we changed things a little bit on the second record, made it more raw and slightly back-to-basics. When we got to the Tales… record, I guess it was a rebellion; we didn’t want to be in that scene anymore, we were sick of the bands in that scene, we didn’t like any of them and didn’t want to be included with them, so I guess we rebelled and did the complete opposite of what was expected of us. That’s why the record turned out as it did but, with this album, it was a case of being truer and keeping it just amongst the five of us. In this day and age it’s probably quite unheard of – and it’s the first time we’ve ever done it – but we completely wrote and recorded the record ourselves and no-one from the record label or management had actually heard it until it was there, finished, on the desk. This is the record, here you go!
It’s always been very different for us, a case of sending demos through and the label saying “you need to do this many more songs” or the producer saying “let’s use this one”; we never had any of that this time so it’s a very honest representation of us. A lot of the writing came from, like you said, people asking for your old stuff. We purposefully set out to write a record which would make them not want to ask for those old records any more, that we’d be giving them better than that and they’d be asking for the new ones. That’s how it’s turned out and it’s a great turnaround to have people asking you to play your new stuff and requesting brand new songs. It’s more fun for us that way and it feels a lot fresher.
Are there any particular studio tricks that you use to create your drum sound, or does it vary from album to album, perhaps even song to song?
I find the best trick, if you will, is to choose the right room. That’s the most important thing for me. There’s a lot of studio trickery you can use to get certain sounds but I’ve never liked that sampled, synthetic type of sound, I’ve always liked really big, open, live sounding drums on the records I’ve played on. For this record, we went to an amazing studio in Monnow Valley in Wales to do the drums and the room there is second to none in the world, really. It’s an incredible recording room and that’s the most important thing, really; well, second to having a great sounding set of drums, of course. Yeah, just getting the right room and really catching that vibe and ambiance.
Who are your favourite drummers?
I guess it would vary through the years. The person that got me into drumming in the first place would have been Roger Taylor from Queen. My dad is a very big Queen fan and, when I was growing up, any time we went for a trip in the car or for a drive, Queen would be on. Such great rhythms and I think probably, for most drummers, the first beat that they learned would have been ‘We Will Rock You’; tom, tom, snare and you’re there, you’re a drummer, you’ve played your first beat! I guess that’s how it was for me and, for me, it [the beat from ‘We Will Rock You’] just summed up what drumming is all about: it can be as simple or as technical as you want it to be, there’s no right or wrong, no saying that if something’s more technical then it’s better. That’s a legendary drumbeat but it’s one that probably ninety-nine per cent of the population could play; but they didn’t come up with it, he did, and that’s what was so great about it for me.
Does the band have any plans to release an acoustic album at any point in the future?
You know what, that’s a good shout, actually. It’s something we have been talking about. It’s one of those things we’ve always wanted to do but never found the time. But yeah, that’s going to happen soon, I would think. The way technology is now, it’s really easy for us to record it ourselves if we wanted to. We’ve got a small home setup which we record all our demos on so it would be really easy to come up with that, I think. Yeah, that would be good, I’d love to do that.
Finally, could you name – as of this very moment – your top three albums of all time?
As we’re talking about Queen, I’ll go with A Night at the Opera. (Pause) My word, my mind’s gone blank. I gave a top ten the other day, actually. I’d say…Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses because that’s one that took me onto the next level of music, really, a little bit harsher. I guess the next step from that was The Black Album by Metallica, it took it a step further and got me into the music that got me into being in a band, I suppose. So yeah, let’s go for those.